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Services in constant upgrade

Banking services in Hong Kong have seen significant change in the past few years with the rise of technology creating a new realm of online transactions. These offer ease and convenience, but banks have not lost sight of the fact that customers expect something more than colourful websites and 24-hour access to their accounts.

Also essential is the need to develop a solid relationship between client and banker. It is built on trust, personal contact, sound advice, and an understanding of individual circumstances. And what underpins all that is a willingness to listen and respond accordingly.

"We have to show our customers that we value their business and are trying to build a strong relationship with them," says Daniel Chow, Standard Chartered's general manager for consumer banking sales and distribution. "They want to feel there is a long-term [partnership] and be treated and rewarded accordingly."

Pointing to industry research that stretches back 20 years, Chow notes that clients basically want three things. The first is friendly, fast and accurate service. Next is a range of products, or "financial solutions", sufficient to meet their evolving needs. Third is recognition that a banking relationship should be special.

To meet those expectations, Chow highlights the importance of constant enhancement of in-house service standards. As recent examples, he cites expansion of their branch network in Hong Kong, investment in IT, and the hiring of professionals who specialise in different financial products.

At the day-to-day level, this translates into things such as an eight-minute service pledge at all branches and one-hour loan disbursements. It also means the introduction of an "i-Needs" application process for people seeking wealth management advice, and a renewed emphasis on staff training. "Putting customers first is definitely our direction," Chow says. "We must respond to demand and live up to our brand promise."

According to Ngan Lei-tjen, head of Standard Chartered's consumer banking academy, sustainable success on the wider scale stems from a comprehensive training programme. Specifically, it must prepare employees to deal with internal and external customers and require both new and existing staff to upgrade their knowledge and skills. There should also be close attention to understanding and observing compliance standards.

"We are particularly proud of our 'Day One Readiness' programme for just-on-board frontliners and those about to take up a more challenging role, such as a preferred banking relationship manager," Ngan says. "It is designed as an activity-based experience guiding participants through four phases of learning: exploration, awareness, embedding and application."

To illustrate, newly-recruited relationship managers will start off with four weeks of intensive classroom training. Among other things, this familiarises them with the bank's service culture, customer engagement philosophy, and product portfolio. Along the way, there are extensive checklists, tests and role-plays to make sure each trainee has mastered the essentials and know when and how to apply the various skills.

"By the end of the programme, they are able to listen for customer needs, clarify financial objectives, and tailor potential solutions," Ngan says. "We are very committed to talent development, making sure staff are ready for deployment in the front line, and our academy [remains] dynamic as the business evolves."

Linda Wong, managing director and head of consumer banking for DBS Bank (Hong Kong), similarly notes that stronger client relationships must be a priority for any bank looking to increase its presence in Asia. In a sector where competition is never less than intense, it is a mistake to assume good service alone is enough to bring in new business.

"That is why we are developing more customer-centric processes and policies," Wong says. "We have launched a distinctive set of Asian values that will guide our actions and want to place customers at the heart of the DBS banking experience."

In essence, she explains, this comes down to having the humility to serve and the confidence to lead. "We believe that these values are the seeds of success in customer service," Wong says. "They help us stand out and [make it possible] to build lasting relationships with customers, which is an integral part of banking the Asian way."